2015 KABT Fall Conference

2015 KABT Fall Conference

Ready for What’s Next

The KABT Fall Conference is approaching quickly (September 12th @ the Konza Research Station) and we need all presenter proposals ASAP to finalize the schedule.  The theme of the conference is “Working with secondary and university colleagues to explore cross-cutting concepts”, but other NGSS related topics or research-based information/strategies are welcome!

The link for submitting proposals is http://goo.gl/forms/R0fnPIUQRR.

Contact me directly at jaschwar@usd497.org if you have questions!

DIY Circulation Chamber

In my recent 3D printing exploits I have realized that I need a clean way to circulate fluids around and through samples. My need is to pass D-limonene over HIPS prints to dissolve in-fill and support structures. I then realized others may have similar needs for circulation.

So I found a way to build a simple circulation system with a few relatively cheap components. It was also a pretty quick build once I had all the parts.

Part list:

IMG_20150720_152355 IMG_20150720_152407

I hope most of the build is apparent from the pictures above. I would mention that I use the output line to dump the liquid on top of my part, so the hook holds the short line in place. Use the nut to secure the pump to the coffee can so it doesn’t rattle itself loose over time. I like using the lid as a drying platform to minimize my mess. I’m also using the top half of a pop bottle to hold my printed part up out of the the reservoir and still within the flow.

So that’s what I did today. What kind of summer projects are occupying everyone else?





KABT Spring Camping Trip– Final Update


** Based on the nature of the field sites we will be visiting, and the recent weather, I highly recommend you bring rubber boots if they are available to you. **


Hello All!

There was an earlier post with a basic agenda for the weekend posted a few weeks back, which I recommend you go back to check out if you haven’t already. Due to the confidential nature of the sites we will be visiting (who knew that conservation could have such intrigue?!), I can’t post exact directions to each of the sites we will be visiting on Saturday, but I can give you more information about the camp site.

We will be rendezvousing at the **OUTLET CHANNEL** (US Army Corps of Engineers). While the Elk City State Park sites were really nice, the Corps of Engineers areas are significantly more free. :)





As you can probably see from the map, to get to the camping grounds **coming from the north**, you’ll probably want to take US75 Hwy to **Road 5400. You will then turn south (likely left) onto Road 2950. At the Fish & Wildlife Office, bear left (away from Rd 5050).  Cellular service is available in the area, but you may be roaming depending on your carrier. We’ll try to get signs directing you to the camping ground, or feel free to call Drew (913-634-8059) or Noah (316-259-5942).


There is a good chance that it will rain at some point during the weekend, so PLEASE plan accordingly. No one likes a complainer. :)

There aren’t *supposed* to be severe storms at this point, but stay tuned here and in the KABT Facebook group.

Let me know if there are any questions via email or FB group message, and get ready to see some things that most Kansans never will.




KABT Spring Field Trip (Chautauqua Hills)


Hey everyone!


Last weekend, I was able to go on a scouting trip for our Spring Field Trip with Ken Davidson, and Stan and Janet Roth. Having spent most of my life around Kansas City or the Flint Hills, I was in awe of some of the neat things we explored. I cannot wait to show you some of the sites we have picked out for you. Highlights include the only recorded locations in the state of Resurrection Fern and Poison Oak, as well as Royal Fern and (hopefully) Mistletoe.

We are still trying to find the perfect campsite, but we are tentatively planned to overnight at Elk City State Fishing Lake, before making the short drive into Chautauqua County.

Friday Night 5/29: Camping and camaraderie

Saturday 5/30: Poison Oak and Royal Fern sites before lunch, Resurrection Fern site after lunch. Dinner in Sedan, KS. Road cruise for herps on the way back to the campsite.

Sunday 5/31: Break camp, hike/explore trails around Elk City State Fishing Lake.

The Great Gradeless Experiment #1

I’ve officially been approved to go gradeless in my freshman biology classes! I want to blog my experiences (both successes and failures) for you all. In addition, if you have any experience with standards-based grading or gradeless classes, I would love to hear from you!

For my first gradeless post, I’d like to share some of the rationale behind going gradeless and what I’m planning. Below is essentially the email I sent to my principal about going gradeless, but with less district-specific jargon.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about grading practices these last couple of years. I’ve become frustrated with current grading policies and I’m looking for change. Right now, students are content with doing the required amount of work for whatever grade they’re aiming for, but don’t seem to care about actually mastering the content. Right now, grades seem like a way to measure compliance, but not learning. 

I’ve been reading about standards based grading and gradeless classrooms for 2 years now. Last summer, I didn’t feel confident enough to try a new grading system. Now that I’ve been working in-depth on Marzano and NGSS implementation, I’m feeling like this is something I could do in my classroom. I’ve been looking at the Marzano assessment scale for student work and it seems like something that would lend itself wonderfully to a gradeless classroom.

These are just some thoughts I’ve had about implementing a gradeless classroom:

  1. I would use my gradebook to keep track of the assignments students complete. For example, I would record whether an assignment was completed, partially completed, or not turned in. This score wouldn’t contribute to a student’s grade, but would be a tool to track participation and would provide more information for me, the students, and their parents. My rationale is that students master content with different amounts of practice. I don’t want a student’s grade to be hurt because they didn’t turn in a study guide for content that they know well. On the flipside, if a student is struggling to learn the content, I would have a record of how much effort a student has put into their learning.
  2. I want to use lab notebooks for students to track their learning. With each unit, I want to give students a place for them to record the unit and daily questions (the big ideas I’m trying to teach), to keep track of what activities/assignments help with learning the corresponding unit content, summaries of each unit/assessments, and for them to rate their own understanding of each unit.
  3. Instead of grading assignments for accuracy and giving students a score, I would be looking for understanding and providing students with feedback. Students would be welcome to try assignments again and to make revisions until they master the content. Instead of grades, I want to keep track of how well I think students are mastering the content, using Marzano’s 0-4 scale. My co-worker and I are developing a rubric for each unit for us to track learning progress. 
  4. At the end of each grading period for progress reports and the end of each quarter, I want to sit down with each student individually and we would decide on their letter grade together. I want students to advocate for themselves using evidence. They should show me the data they’ve kept on their learning progress in their lab notebooks, and I would have the data I’ve recorded using the rubrics we’re making. I want students to have a say in their grade and to explain to me why they deserve it. At the end of the quarter, the only grade in the gradebook that would contribute to their final grade would be the grade we decided on together. “

I’ll be attempting this with my co-worker, Peggy Porter. If you’re curious about the work we’ve done so far, check out the following link.

For a list of our units and unit questions (Shout-out to Camden Burton. We used some of the language from his curriculum document that he posted a while back!): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uKikMpItT1tv2wjEb_JxC9m8Y5NrN9l0TeHjzWYCRaY/edit?usp=sharing

For the rubric we’ll be using to assess student knowledge in each unit: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cyvfgk66KisVNe8aT-9Fk1yDgtu6HTNuv0xtef4HULU/edit?usp=sharing

(Note: Both of these documents are first drafts, and the rubric document is only a little over half-way completed. Both will be updated throughout the summer.)

Peggy and I are looking forward to this experiment! We’ll be updating throughout the semester with our findings and student data.

KU Med Summer Teacher Externship

I recently had the pleasure of attending the KU Med Summer Teacher Externship. I decided to go because I am lacking in my knowledge of medical careers. The flyer said it was for health career teachers, and I decided A+P counted. Well, after attending, I’m here to tell you that this is not just a program for health science teachers, but for any biology teacher who thinks part of their role is helping to inform and counsel students about medical careers. The 3 days were packed completely full, but I will try to give you a glimpse of my experience.

The program was a mixture of meetings with heads of admissions, libraries and tours of hospital departments and research labs.

I started to write about every place we went, but it was an overload of info. I’ll just make a list. We talked to people with the School of Nursing, School of Medicine, Health Information Management, School of Health Professions (a school which includes clinical laboratory scientists and occupational therapists), Public Health, physical therapists at the Heart Center and a medical illustrator/imaging specialist. In the hospital we toured and spoke to people in the emergency department, hospital pharmacy (with a ROBOT!), hospital labs, and radiology. In the research part of KU Med we got to tour the orthopedics research lab, REACH lab (physical therapy), the Hemingway Lab which does research with reproductive health and ovarian cancer, and the brain imaging lab where they do research on humans and mice using MRI and Magnetometer. It was awesome and exhausting!

Everyone was very nice and we were able to ask a lot of questions. They have so much passion for their work, and gave me lots of information for me to share with my students. I now feel more prepared to be an advocate for my students. I can give them much more information about health care careers, and I can help them prepare for their next step in education after high school. This was also very insightful because most of my students who want to go into a medical career think doctor, nurse, physical therapist and maybe anesthesiologist. But there is so much more! And, while not everyone can be a doctor, there is a career in healthcare for everyone. It’s also motivated me to want to learn MORE and find additional resources for them. If you’re interested, you can e-mail the coordinator Seth Nutt (snutt@kumc.edu). I feel bad leaving so much out, but I learned so much, too much for a blog post. So, you’ll just have to go next year!

This is the trama room in the ER. We learned some about the logistics of how the ER works, and about the type of people who work at such a high stress job.
This is the trama room in the ER. We learned some about the logistics of how the ER works, and about the type of people who work at such a high stress job.
This is Dr. Roby at the Hemenway lab, where we extracted RNA from cancerous ovarian cells of mice. This was my favorite tour. We learned so much about her research, including how they developed a special cell line, which we got to see! (It look just like that scene from Jurassic Park.)
This is Dr. Roby at the Hemenway Lab, where we extracted RNA from cancerous ovarian cells of mice. This was my favorite tour. We learned so much about her research, including how they developed a special cell line, which we got to see! (It look just like that DNA scene from Jurassic Park.)
We toured the hospital labs. This is the micro lab. It was so interesting to see how these run in such a large hospital. Clinical laboratory scientist is a great option for students who want to work in the medical field, like lab work, but don't want to directly work with patients.
We toured the hospital labs. This is the micro lab. It was so interesting to see how these run in such a large hospital. Clinical laboratory scientist is a great option for students who want to work in the medical field, like lab work, but don’t want to directly work with patients.
At the brain imaging center, a researcher told us about the logistics of doing brain research with mice. This is the small rodent MRI machine. She researches head trauma in old vs. young brains. It was fascinating.
At the brain imaging center, a researcher told us about the logistics of doing brain research with mice. This is the small rodent MRI machine. She researches head trauma in old vs. young brains. It was fascinating.
Dr. Billinger at the REACH lab is a physical therapist. Here she was showing us a little about stress tests. They do a lot of different research, including some research on people who have an increased risk Alzheimer’s. Notice all the posters on the walls? It was awesome to see, and gives me much more to talk about with my students when we create research posters.
Dr. Billinger at the REACH lab is a physical therapist. Here she was showing us a little about stress tests. They do a lot of different research, including some research on people who have an increased risk Alzheimer’s. Notice all the posters on the walls? They were in all the research labs. It was awesome to see, and gives me much more to talk about with my students when we create research posters.

Student Project on Genetic Research of Periodic Cicadas

What a research opportunity for my students but we need help from you, your friends and relatives!

Please ask relatives and friends in different states throughout the USA to collect cicadas for us. We ( my students and I) will ID and analyze DNA. Please post this request on Social media if you deem appropriate.

No we haven’t lost our minds. We just love research!

Collecting cicadas:
1) Grab them, they are harmless

2) Place them in an airtight container…old pill bottle, clean yogurt cup, not a drink cup…the hole for the straw allows air in. We don’t want the cicada to dehydrate. You may place several cicada in one container…just don’t overcrowd them or they damage one another as they move about.

3) Place the container of cicadas in the freezer (this kills the insect and preserves it for later study). Keep the insects frozen.

4). When you have 12-30 let me know. I will send mailing instructions.

States we are interested in: TN, OK, TX, CO, KS, NE, IA, IN, IL, MI, AR, AL, MI, MO, ID, AR, CA, OH, SC, NO, PA, ND, SD, UT, WY, MN, NM, MT, WI, NY, NJ, FL, GE

The list above includes the states we would like to know more about in terms of 17 and 13 yr cicadas. Some of the states listed have no record of emergence. If you live in additional state where cicadas are emerging we would appreciate your involvement.

Brood charts showing locations where cicadas are emerging and other interesting information about these amazing critters are located at:

Brenda Bott
Shawnee Mission School District Biotechnology Signature Program
Overland Park, KS

Prairie Wonders and a Plant ID Challenge


Flower 1

Aldo saw things that others don’t:

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.—Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac, excerpt from http://www.panojohnson.com/leopold-quotes.html#silphium

The abundant rain this spring postponed our KABT field trip but the upside is that the prairies are lush.  KABT members and naturalists in general should be getting out and checking on the ever changing floral display that defines our prairies.

Flower 2

It is a beautiful time of the year and it changes daily.  The weather is cool. The birds are singing, and so are the 17 year cicadas.

The only downside is that you’ve got to watch out for ticks.  However, many of the sites you can visit have wide trails that make picking up ticks less likely.  I’ve made two trips to the Konza this week only 4 days apart and I’m astounded at the change in just that short amount of time.  Biology teachers and naturalists don’t want to miss out.  Get out to your nearest prairie and see if you can’t discover the soul of the prairie.

Carol went along on the last trip.


Not blooming but still identifiable: Flower 3


There are several prairies around that can be visited.  The Konza leads the list but there is also the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  In Lawrence you have have the KU Field station north of town and the Prairie Park on the east side of town.  Kill Creek Park in Johnson county and the Prairie Center both have excellent remnant prairies to visit.

Flower 4

It’s not hard to learn to identify many of the flowers with today’s resources.  Load up Mike Haddock’s Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses web page and you’ll likely find the answer to most of the flowers you’ll come across.  Think of the flower images in this post as a quiz to get you started.  If you choose to take up the challenge, enter your answers in the comments below or on the KABT Facebook Page.  There are 11 flowers to be identified.

The Konza is noted for its benches, defined by limestone members.  This is the Fort Riley bench.


This is the Fort Riley limstone with eroded cavities filled with plants—like a planter.

As Carol said in her Facebook post, this flower dominated the prairie, last week

Flower 5


Flower 6


Flower 7


Flower 8


Flower 9


Flower 10


Flower 11

The Value of Summer Assignments

Sketchnote practice for AP Bio Summer Assn

I recently read a post on Medium from a teacher, David Knuffke, whom I have never met but have come to respect the opinions of in most topics concerning science education.

How I Killed My Summer Assignment (And Why It Had To Die)

For those too busy/lazy/whatever to read what he has to say, I’ll summarize it, hopefully without harming the integrity of his message: His AP Biology summer assignment  had become an unnecessary hoop for his students to jump through, and he didn’t feel like giving his students an assessment which wasn’t benefiting them personally or as students.  I agree with this idea, by the way. There are few things related to education that I detest more than unnecessary assessments. I cringe whenever I hear someone talk about how they give a school/district/state assessment where the data is kept in a file, just in case the data is ever needed to justify some decision after-the-fact. [Shudder]

But I also think that summer assignments can be important. I will not make some outlandish claim that my students are inadequate, underprivileged, or otherwise unprepared for the rigor of AP classes in general, or even AP Biology specifically. What they tend to be, though, are “memorizers”; they like to be told the “best” way to do something, exactly what they need to “know for the test”, and then they will give you all of that information (often verbatim from the source).  

It is actually quite impressive, and may even be helpful… when I took AP Biology in 2003. “Kids these days” seem to be suffering from the standardized testing that dominated their elementary and middle school education. The creativity and problem solving needed to be successful at the next level has been drill-and-killed out of them. Regardless of the students’ college and/or career plans, those are skills which are found in the best and brightest of any field. This is all just a long-winded way of saying that I use my summer assignment to get students the practice they need building specific skill sets which will make their time in AP Biology a much smoother process.

Assignment Introduction PDF: IsingAPBio_2014SummerAssn 

So what do I do? Each summer I pick a creative nonfiction book (something from the “Science” section of a bookstore/library) that all my students will read. I do my best to make sure that there is an affordable paperback version available on Amazon (or a similar online retailer) or that it can be checked out at the local public library, as I don’t want my students to be unnecessarily burdened. I also try to make the book as interesting as possible because I am subversively trying to get them to enjoy reading about science and start building a library of their own.  From there, they have three basic tasks for their assignment:

        1. Tweet-ups during the summer to talk about themes from one third of the book
        2. Products to make for each chapter in an “active journal”
        3. In-class discussion on the book during our first full day of class

If you want more information about the importance of modeling appropriate social media use, I can point you to some great resources, but I like using Tweet-ups to “meet” my students and let them talk informally about the book with their classmates in a slightly more realistic conversation than you can have on a message board. I like this, too, because I have a relationship with most of these kids the day that class starts, which allows us to get down to business more or less from day one. On the “cons” side of the list, there are some parents that don’t allow their students to have a social media account, but after I share a Storify of one of our past chats, most allow their youngling to participate.

My favorite part of the assignment, though, has to be the products. They are, basically, a series of art projects to complete for each chapter that they wouldn’t normally associate with a science class. I received a number of concerned emails from new students about whether collage, poetry, painting, and story-telling were all products that needed to be done, or if they could “opt-out” by writing an essay (which I, of course, denied).  I am always amazed by what students can do when given the freedom to express themselves in their learning process. And the self-described “non-artsy” students are usually surprised at what they can produce.

The following gallery is an example of last year’s assignment over the book The Universe Within by Neil Shubin.  I chose this book because we were starting the year with biochemistry and biological structures, and Dr. Shubin does an above-average job (in my opinion) of explaining how complex biological systems could have arisen from something as remote and distant as the Big Bang, and of providing interesting anecdotes of the people and discoveries that helped us reach our current understandings. The student that completed the assignment in the gallery, Morgan Johannesen, has also written her own critique of the summer assignment which you can read here on KABT.org.

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Really, summer assignments should be fun. Students should expand their boundaries and try things that they wouldn’t normally. And they should be able to experiment and grow as a student without fear of sabotaging their grade, especially before they even step into a classroom. 

But as LeVar Burton used to say, don’t take my word for it… 😉  


Homework in the Summer?!

[Editor’s Note: This post accompanies my blog post on summer assignments in AP Biology (and other) classes. My student, Morgan Johannesen, offered me this short essay. What follows is her opinion of the assignment). –Ising]

Chapter 10: Freestyle
Chapter 10: Freestyle

Summer assignments are a chore. Reading books for school is a chore. Somehow, compared to other summer assignments, Mr. Ising managed to teach us effectively over the summer without making it feel like nearly as much of a chore. I don’t care if it sounds like I was bribed to say this: it was the most enjoyable and productive summer assignment of my entire high school career.

For starters, The Universe Within by Neil Shubin was a really solid book choice as a precursor to AP Bio. It gave a brief history of the universe from a biology-centric standpoint, encapsulating many of the big ideas and re-familiarizing us with the general biology concepts we may have forgotten since freshman year. Switching from historical pop-science accounts to personal anecdotes from the author’s experiences, it was right up the interest alley of many kids who elected to take this class, myself included. Ising assigned us two pages of notes and a creative “product” for each of the 10 chapters, which when split into the different weeks of summer ended up being a light and bearable workload. Instead of due dates for certain assignments, the several “tweet-ups” held on Twitter periodically throughout the summer helped keep everyone that had (or created a Twitter account for this class at the request of Ising) accountable for at least reading the book by certain dates in the summer. The “tweet-ups” were always lively and achieved Ising’s goal of direct communication between teachers and students about the subject matter as well as some friendly debating of our own opinions (climate change was nearly a hot mess).
The variety and open-endedness of the “product” side is what made it the coolest chore. Chapters 2, 6, 8, and 9 familiarized me with the art and method of sketchnoting which has come in handy every single week of AP Bio class this year. No other teacher had shown us how to take notes this way before. Sketchnotes have even bled into other classes for me (I have a particularly boring physics class this year and sketchnoting helps keep me awake). Chapter 8’s Radiolab Dinopocalypse podcast assignment was another highlight. I did not expect to have feelings about dinosaurs in the way that Radiolab made me.
The more challenging assignments were the painting for chapter 5, writing poetry for chapter 3, and either interpreting an already-existing song or writing our own for chapter 7. I’ve always enjoyed art and language arts, but tying science to a brand new art medium (watercolors) and creative writing formats that AP English curriculum doesn’t require you learn how to create yourself were huge steps into foreign territory. They weren’t impossible steps, though. Especially with the guarantee that the only people who had to see these products were myself and the teacher who assigned us these “hippy-dippy” tasks.
Ising said on my grade card for the assignment that AP Bio would probably disappoint me from here on out, but Ising’s teaching methods are reflected in this assignment and have been all the more challenging and engaging throughout the school year. The summer assignment covered basic introductory ideas without unnecessarily quizzing us, and the content of the book continually reappears as applicable to many of the “Big Ideas” covered in the rest of the year so far. I don’t know what more an AP kid could want out of a summer assignment. Ising should keep doing what he’s doing.

Kansas Association of Biology Teachers' News and Resources